Battle for Azeroth insights

With Pax East concluding a few days ago, we who did not attend are just now getting some of the pertinent WoW-related interviews, and those of us in disfavor with Blizz who do not have a ticket to play the BfA alpha are getting a better look at the next expansion. The interview videos are spread out on the internet, but for one place to start check out MMO-C’s summaries. As I listened to these interviews, I think I began to get an idea of the “feel” of BfA — the things that will shape the expansion experience for me. Honestly, they do not make me any more excited about it.

First, the introduction of Warfronts and Island Expeditions. Warfronts, from what I understand, are large (multi-day?) competitions between Horde and Alliance, resulting in control of an area and presumably the chance then to plunder the Azerite and other resources in the area. One dev compared the concept to Wintergrasp. The same dev made the point that each side will have to have strong team cooperation to be successful. I don’t know that this has ever worked well in WoW on a mass basis. Players who do a lot of PvP are good at these events, but opening them up to — end encouraging participation from — the Great Unwashed Masses is usually an exercise in futility. People run around with no idea of what to do or where to go, or they join and then hide somewhere and go afk until the event is over, all while the people who really want to win and know what they are doing yell things like “EVERYONE GET TO THE KEEP!” Eventually the side with the most people paying attention wins. Yay.

Warfronts will in theory require “contributions” from players. One of the devs opined that possibly this might include not just fighting participation but also materials and profession products. This part sounds a bit like the buildings on Broken Shore to me. Honestly, if the contributions to those had involved actual gathered profession mats instead of the Legionfall War Supplies — which could not be spent in any other way, and which I accumulated as part of world quests in the area rather than going out of my way to gather — I would never have bothered to contribute.

My suspicion is that Warfronts will get some heavy participation in the very beginning of BfA but will soon become nothing more for most people than checking to see “who controls ((Wintergrasp-equivalent area))” to see if you can get in and grab up the azerite or whatever perk is there.

Island Expeditions seem patterned on the old Mists scenarios, an activity I rather enjoyed. However, the main reason I enjoyed them was that they awarded currency for decent gear, plus they were very quick to run and the queues were almost instantaneous. I do not know what the inducement is for running Island Expeditions in BfA, but it will need to be something solid and dependable (NOT an RNG-based shot at mediocre gear) for me to be interested. I do not know if there is a timed element to Islands, but if so that will greatly diminish their attraction for me, too.

The second thing that got my notice was some of the talk about BfA gear. In a couple of the interviews there was discussion of trinkets. Apparently the dev team likes the idea of trinkets having one-off abilities as well as interacting with class/spec talents and abilities. This tells me two things. One is that we can look forward to another entire expansion of carrying around or storing dozens of trinkets because who knows when one will be “THE” one to have for a specific encounter. The other thing this tells me is that there will be certain “must have” trinkets for some specs, because it is guaranteed that Blizz will use a trinket to fill in some gaping holes in spec design, the same way they did with legendaries in Legion. So you will have to have a certain trinket to play your spec the way it should be played, but of course it is a crap shoot as to whether you get the trinket or not. Wunderbar.

In BfA, Blizz also seems to be getting rid of some possibilities for casual players. For one thing, they are rather drastically reducing the rate at which items will Titanforge. I suppose this is because a few elite-snobs whined loudly about that “LFR scrub” who actually had one piece of gear equal to the level the Great Player had. Also, in BfA Blizz will limit the level of the key Azerite gear to the level at which it was earned, there will be NO Titanforging for this gear. Thus, the Mythic pros will never have to suffer the unimaginable indignity of a lesser being actually *gasp* having an equal level gear item — a severe trauma, I am sure we can all agree.

It seems, though, that the Azerite gear will entail the same kind of endless grind that artifact weapons required in Legion. Instead of chasing AP, substitute Azerite. Otherwise, same-same. Also, it would seem that the Azerite gear is in fact spec-specific, so once again switching specs will be a Big Fucking Deal, and if you are unlucky enough to pick a losing spec at the beginning of the expansion, sucks to be you, you could be playing catch-up for a long time.

Last, there was dev discussion of group composition as it interrelates to raid and instance design and class/spec design. Although Blizz clearly understands many of the implications of this complex design problem, I remain skeptical that they have either the ability or the desire to really give every class a decent opportunity for full participation. In terms of spec design, BfA seems to be going further down the road of actual specialization, so that any given spec has niche abilities such as AoE, burst, single target, mobility, and so forth. At the same time, they seem to be curtailing the ability to select talents to compensate for niche abilities, so that for example if you are a single target spec you have almost no significant talent choice to substitute anything other than a very puny AoE.

Similarly, while Blizz has renewed their emphasis on raid buffs, they have created real winner and loser specs in terms of the value and/or widespread usefulness of these buffs. And the buff pruning in the name of “uniqueness” is a joke. Hunters, for example, had their pet combat rez removed (supposedly because other classes have that ability), yet what remains is a form of Hero, which many other classes also have. How is that unique? This puts the lie to all the blather about “making each class feel special and unique”. Trust me, having a buff that several other classes have does not make me “special and unique”. Now, if I had, say Aspect of the Fox or something similar, that would be a real “special and unique” contribution. But of course Blizz panicked for the entire month or however long they permitted us to have Aspect of the Fox, because OMG hunters had an actual decent raid buff????? Somebody screwed up! Must. Fix. Immediately.

All this is intertwined with raid design, of course. And nothing in any of these interviews gave me confidence that most bosses will be designed to allow every class a chance to excel. One of the devs even went so far as to put a stamp of approval on raid-loading by saying that it was a good thing if, having gotten close to a boss kill, a team realized that only one class could give them that extra 2% and they reconfigured to include it. This, of course, goes further down the road Blizz has recently taken, where “Bring the class, not the player” is desirable.

BfA will once again bring us winner classes and loser classes, and it looks like Blizz does not care that that will be the case. In fact, they seem to like the idea. Get your class lottery tickets here, folks.

Okay, enough pessimism about BfA. Time for a weekend. We are finally getting some warm weather here in Virginia, and I need to paint a few old wood pallets for planter walls and such. And maybe drink a cold beer, it being almost hot today.

Alcohol and spray paint, what could possibly go wrong?

See you on the other side.

Alt raiding

Last night our guild did an alt run of Heroic Antorus the Burning Throne. We have been running normal for alt runs, but several people have got their “main alts” to a level where that is not really challenging any more. We set an ilevel requirement of 920 and ended up with something like 15 people. We made it as far as Kin’garoth fairly easily, but wiped repeatedly on him and called it for the night. That boss is really a DPS check (how fast you can down the adds) for the remainder of the raid, a sort of gateway to the hardest final bosses. But all in all it was a fun night, and we got further than I expected.

From a personal standpoint, I did get two tier upgrades on my druid — yay! But my healing was not much more than adequate, and it was only afterwards that I discovered a huge mistake in my keybind setup. Not necessary to go into details, but the result was that what I thought was my keybind for Nature’s Cure was in fact a dupe of my keybind for combat rez. Oops. No wonder I ended up with no debuff dispels on Imonar…. And that pretty much explains why the other two healers were hollering theirs were on cooldown, and for me to cast mine. I kept saying mine was also on cool down, because when I hit the key nothing happened (of course), so I just assumed that was the case. Not one of my finer moments. 🤭 Still, I am learning better techniques for conserving mana and for anticipating damage cycles, so I suppose it was a net learning experience. (Just don’t tell my GM about my faux pas!)

We will still do our Friday night normal alt raids, and at this point I am considering signing my void elf mage up for those, as there really is not anything loot-wise I need from normal for my druid. And heaven knows, I can use the practice on my mage. I expect the first couple of times I will embarrass myself with disgustingly low damage numbers, but hopefully I will improve in fairly short order. I know the DPS fights, it’s just a matter of figuring out how best to do my mage-y stuff for each one.

In truth, I am a tad conflicted about these alt raids. On the one hand, I almost invariably have fun doing them, and I enjoy figuring out how different classes need to interact in the fights. In the long run, I think it makes me a better raider because it gives me a broader perspective and ultimately better raid sense. On the other hand, I am kind of burned out on raiding, and going back to a 2-night per week “schedule” is a bit daunting, especially the heroic runs because I am still really stressed when I heal. But on the third (?) hand, we have four months left yet until BfA, so it is good to have a fun guild-sponsored way to really explore the advantages and disadvantages of my various alt classes and specs.

Plus, there is always alcohol to lessen the healing stress or to add to the Friday night party atmosphere. (🤫) And there is no “requirement” to participate in alt runs, like there is during the regular progression season. Sign up or don’t, whatever you want.

Okay, I talked myself into it.

Now maybe I should figure out which other alts I would like to run through the normal raids. It might be a good way to get an idea of another spec I might want to main in BfA since BM hunters continue to look like a lousy bet.

Yes, I know, I am probably deluding myself with talk of maining another spec in BfA, but I am trying to humor myself. Even given the terrible state of BM hunters now and likely for the entire new expansion, truth be told I am not sure I would ever be able to give up a hunter main. What is more likely is that I will kick dirt and grumble to myself and end up selecting either MM or SV for BfA. Okay, maybe not SV, as I really, really hate that it is melee, plus I am still stinging over the shabby way Blizz yanked this spec out from under me in WoD. Never say never, but I am still of the opinion that it will be a cold damn day in hell when I do melee SV except as a lark. Yes, I am obstinate. (Please feel free to taunt me with this statement if I end up going SV in the next expansion…)

Maybe I will buck the trend and try to do MM, even in raids, with a pet. From what I am reading so far, I doubt doing so will yield worse numbers than BM will. Except for Blizz skewing the numbers to strongly encourage MM hunters to go petless, the spec does seem like it will be engaging to play in BfA, especially with the changes that give it more mobility, along with active focus regeneration, and some decent procs. So far, MM is my  Plan B for BfA (a decent BM being Plan A, but this is looking more and more unlikely). But that does not mean I am not working on Plan C and even Plan D.

Hmmm, another idea for fun with alt runs — switch hunter specs and run as MM or even *shudder* SV….. Just as alts, mind you, not as a real hunter! Plus, I have all the legendaries for both specs.

Definitely worth considering.

Scatterbrained

There is at once so much and so little going on with WoW these days that I am finding it challenging to come up with topics for this blog. The “so much going on” is all quite a ways out yet, and the stuff we are dealing with in Legion now is unfortunately in the “so little going on” bucket. Thus, some extremely scattered thoughts I had over the weekend.

User interfaces. I know I will get some blowback on this, but in my opinion Blizz pretty much stinks at user interfaces in the game. They seem to be easily satisfied with the kind of interface only an elderly software engineer could love — clunky and non-intuitive but adequate to get at the guts of the game. Over the years, I will admit, they have tended to improve some of the more egregious clunkers, but there are a lot left.

Take the bag structure. It used to resemble my Aunt Dorothy’s huge purse — stuffed with everything she had accumulated over years, and none of it could be found without a lot of rummaging. Then a few years ago, Blizz gave us the “organizer” option for bags. That is a laugh. Honestly, I have never been able to figure out what principle they use to determine what item is in what category, you only get the categories Blizz wants to give you, there is no reasonable solution for overflow items, and you are stuck with Blizz’s idea of what “tidy” means if you decide to tidy them up. It is so lousy that they had to amend it a while back and add a feature that made recently-added items glow. Not a bad feature, I will grant you, but it is fickle and annoying if you have looked in your bag to find the new loot you just got, then close it to offer the item up for raffle — when you open the bag again to find the item for trade, it has suddenly lost its glow and you are left to search for it for a long time while the raid leaves both you and your recipient far behind.

Part of why Blizz is so lazy with their interfaces, I think, is because they have the luxury of a large community of addon writers that willingly fix the slipshod Blizz work. For years now, I have used an addon called ArkInventory for my bags (there are several good ones out there), and it has become one of the ones I almost cannot live without, right up there alongside WeakAuras and Bartender 4. It allows me to set up my own categories along with Blizz’s, it lets me see what category Blizz thinks an item is in, and if I don’t like  it I can redesignate the item’s category to another one of theirs or to one I have made up. I can also see my bag as one gigantic storage area and designate areas for each category. (Can apply this to your bank as well, and even to a guild bank if you want because it does not affect the actual way items are stored just how they appear to you.) Each area has a title, for example, “Food”, “Cooking mats”, “Pet Shit”, “Other spec gear”, even a separate one for “Trinkets” so I can easily see the ones I have. I also keep all my legendaries in a separate bin to rapidly sift through them, along with something I call “Gear I Need” to keep the various pieces I rotate as I change out tier and legendaries.

Yeah, the OCD organizer in me loves this app. Blizz could give us the same thing — clearly the capability is there in the code — but they don’t have to make an elegant interface because someone else does it for them.

Another trauma overcome. Many years ago, when I rolled my druid, I decided she would be primarily a healer. I was drawn to the idea that druids can fulfill any role in the game, including either ranged or melee damage dealers. I was about level 60 or 62 when I attempted to heal my first pug dungeon. (Drak’Tharon Keep) I really had zero idea what I was doing, but hey I had healed myself while leveling, puttered around in a couple battlegrounds, and even thrown a few heals at some players who happened to be on the same quest I was on out in the world. How hard could it be?

HAHAHA. It was a disaster. We wiped on the first set of trash in that long hall, and I was immediately kicked, but not before everyone had thrown some well-deserved insults at me. I had failed to grasp the HoT concept for druid healing, thought when someone got low on health I could throw out a heal and be good. These days I laugh at such experiences, but back then I took them very seriously, so seriously in fact that I did not attempt druid healing again for years. When I did, I took care to always be in a raid with other healers, so that I would not have sole responsibility for the group’s survival. Even as I became proficient at druid healing, the 5-man phobia remained.

Until last night. I took a deep breath and queued as a healer for a Timewalker dungeon. My hands were clammy, my heart rate was through the roof, and I was laser focused on every tiny health point for everyone.

Pfffffft. It was a piece of cake. I got through five of them easily. I don’t know what I was worried about. In fact, TW dungeons are so easy to heal I found I had a lot of time for dealing some of my puny damage as well. Another huge dragon built up in my mind was in fact a tiny cute kitty… 😂

LFR. (A never-ending source of blog material) I ran a few LFRs over the weekend, on my void elf mage and my druid. These things really are a study in psychology. In fact, there is someone in my guild who has 12-14 alts and actually loves running LFR on them every week. She is fascinated by the various group dynamics she encounters. Yeah, I know, right, go figure… I am pretty sure I could never go to that extreme on LFR, but it is still interesting to me how vastly different the group experience can be every time. One time you can get a sober, mature group that is helpful to newbies and very patient, and the next group can be toxic and completely dysfunctional.

The LFR queue process, though, is another example of a user interface that Blizz could really stand to improve. I understand it is not simple to do, but there are some really annoying things about it. The one over the weekend that annoyed me was the idea that you can be put into a group in the middle of a raid wing, maybe even for just the last boss in that wing. I understand this has to happen because of course players will drop out at any point in the raid and they need to be backfilled. It is frustrating to have waited for 10-15 minutes to get into a raid, only to only have a shot at the last boss and then get to queue all over again for the same wing. Once recently, that happened to me, and when I requeued I got put into a raid that was on the second of the 3 bosses, so I got to requeue yet one more time! At the very least, Blizz could put you at the head of the queue if that happens to you, and maybe even do some sort of check to make sure you get in on the first boss if you have to requeue.

Last, in what may be the least exciting news lately, Blizzcon 2018 tickets are going on sale shortly. (Yawn) For WoW players, this year’s event is likely to be a real snoozer, since BfA will have already launched months before. I suppose it may come at a handy time to hype the first BfA patch — and possibly a new raid tier — but that is about it. There are a few rumors that there may be an announcement of a Warcraft III remaster, but otherwise the focus will likely be on other Blizz IPs. The virtual tickets will go on sale later this summer, but I think the only way I will be interested is if there is significant inducement in the form of a really cool mount or something (like they did for Blizzcon 2017).

That’s it for this rather boring Monday.

Looking towards summer

Now that it is officially spring, and the birds are tweeting and the trees are budding and the flowers are blooming and we are in the middle of another freaking snow storm (🤬), it’s time to start thinking about how I will spend my summer in WoW.

Snow, spring 2018

Actual photo taken this morning

Last night was our last official raid night until next expansion, and I think we were all more than ready to end the season. We didn’t even do a full clear, just the first boss then skipped to the last two in order to get the mount for a couple of people who had not yet gotten it and still wanted it. It was not our best effort, nor was it our worst, it just — was. Notable only because it was the last for Legion. We have an active guild, and we will continue to do weekly alt raids and such, but they are really just for funsies, a chance to take some of our mothballed alts out and check out how badly we stink on them, as well as engage in some mostly well-intentioned trash talk.

Now, of course, everyone will have to decide how to fill game time until what will likely be the end of the summer, possibly even as late as the end of September. Some will decide to take a break from all gaming and unsub for a few months, some will cut back on their hours played, some will move to other games, some will keep at it pretty much as they have been. Already we have quite a few who have jumped to other games like Final Fantasy and HotS.

I will probably do a combination of things. I usually like having some time to concentrate on alts, and Legion is no exception. But probably for the first time in my WoW experience, I am genuinely tired of my hunter. I really feel like Blizz has sucked all the fun out of my spec, left it with only a grim routine of mashing buttons on cooldown and once in a while throwing out a cc. This thought resonated with me when I was playing my mage over the weekend — I was getting a real kick out of the chained procs and deciding how best to employ them. There is just nothing to compare with that for BM hunter. (And so far it does not seem Blizz has any interest in improving the spec for BfA — they have remained almost completely silent on any planned changes, beyond the iffy new pet abilities, that would add interest to it.) Yes, I still have an emotional attachment to the hunter class, and it seems unlikely I will ever main another class, but after a year and a half of mind-numbingly boring play, I am ready for something with a little more pizzazz. At least for a few months.

I know one thing I will not do, and that is level up another character. If I decide to roll another of the allied races, I will definitely use my boost on it. Leveling is another of those game things Blizz has ruined for me.

I will happily cut back on my game hours played, enjoying the mental freedom that comes from not having to gear up a main for raiding. And when logged in, I will do things like pick herbs or futz around with some underdeveloped professions, do some transmogging, knock out a few of the achievements I am interested in, maybe explore some other servers. I am truly looking forward to having nothing pressing to do in the game. (I just wish I could have this free attitude all the time in the game. My own mental prison, I suppose…)

Before Legion I did try my hand at a couple of other MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online, and even Wildstar 🤫.) For some reason they did not engage me the way WoW always has, and I ended up dropping them after a couple of months. Certainly I did not get to whatever constituted end game play for them, and that might have colored my impressions, but I just could not get immersed in them. (And yes, I am hampered by the fact that I am a Mac user and I do not want to use Boot Camp, don’t judge!) I am much more likely to play non-MMOs like one of the Civs or Master of Orion or even Sims.

Anyway, it is spring, all evidence to the contrary, and summer is not far behind. I intend to enjoy a long lazy game summer doing whatever the hell I want, leaving behind the (self-induced) pressure to grind for AP and legendaries and other gear and rep and class hall quest lines, and any of the long list of grinds Legion thrust upon us.

Now if you will pardon me, I have to go shovel some “spring” from my driveway.

Q&A – informative for a change

Yesterday I had a lot going on and was not able to watch the Q&A live, so I watched it this morning. I kind of wish I had made some time to watch it yesterday, because for a change there was quite a lot of very good information in it, and if I had had a few more hours to think about it I would probably be able to make some more thoughtful comments about it today. As it is, here are some of my off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on it. And you can check out both the full video and the text summary courtesy of MMO-C here.

Allied races. There was a lot of discussion about these. To me, it was all of passing interest, but I know there a lot of players for whom this is an extremely exciting part of the game. I think the bottom line here is that Blizz will be introducing lots of new allied races over the course of possibly years. Though Hazzikostas did not admit it, the major reason will be to entice players to level new characters (and thus possibly beef up MAU numbers over an extended period of time).

How best to communicate with Blizz. Basically, don’t whine and don’t try to pass your comments off as representing all players. Meh.

Class balance. I thought this was a decent discussion because it did yield some insight into Blizz’s current guiding principles for class design. Hazzikostas reiterated the idea that the goal is to “make each class unique”. (And by “class” I am pretty sure he meant “spec”.) I do not disagree with the goal, but he failed to address the related designs. For example, it is all well and good to make a class that excels in the ability to DoT targets, but if you design raids and dungeons that only make this a valuable trait for a couple of bosses, then the “unique” aspect of the class is not worth much. Blizz has thus far not shown much success in coordinating raid and dungeon design with class abilities, and every expansion they end up creating winner and loser classes because of this failure. Thus, the idea of “class uniqueness” sounds good, but only if your class is one of Blizz’s design winners.

Similarly, he did not address the idea of “utility” balance — that is, some group utilities are way more valuable and widely useful than others. A combat rez, for example, is probably always useful, whereas something like a hunter Tranq shot is highly specialized. Not all “unique” abilities are created equal, and this again leads to winner and loser classes. Will Blizz realize this and develop a system to minimize it? I doubt it.

Gear. This is where there was some good news, on several fronts. It was apparent that Hazzikostas fully understands the mess Blizz gave us with Legion gear. He said no one should have to sim gear before they can determine if it is an upgrade for them, and he also said they had gone too far with secondary stat importance in Legion. He did not promise that all gear with higher ilevel will be an upgrade every time, but he did say most of the time it will be, and he also said the calculus of determining the worth of gear will be considerably easier. We will see, but to me it sounded positive.

Loot. Somewhat related to gear is the question of loot in group situations. It sounds like the only option in BfA will be personal loot. Some guilds will not like this, but the change has been coming for some time. I know with my own guild, at the start of Legion we tended to prefer a system of Master Looter with rolls, along with a very light determination of who could roll on a piece. Very shortly, however, we saw that Personal Loot dropped significantly more gear (a design by Blizz for Legion), and we switched to that and have not gone back.

Hazzikostas came right out and said the BfA move to all Personal Loot is being made mainly to reign in the top guilds, the ones who routinely game the world-first Mythic competitions by using group loot runs to overgear their main raiders before they even start Mythic runs. This practice has meant Blizz has to compensate for the idea that the professional guilds will be overgeared for Mythic raids at the start, thus they need to make the raid difficulty with that in mind. This has a cascading effect, because it means the raid bosses — particularly the end ones — end up being overtuned for everyone else.

Anyway, it looks like Group Loot will be a thing of the past come BfA. What Hazzikostas did not address, but what I would like to have heard him on, is whether there will be some adjustments to the more annoying parts of Personal Loot. For example, a user-friendly interface for sharing loot. Something like a pop-up loot roll window similar to what we now see in dungeons, except in this case it starts with the person who got the loot selecting if they want to offer it up and checking a simple yes/no. If they do offer it up, then a loot roll window automatically pops up for all players eligible for the loot, maybe a need/greed kind of thing to also allow for people to roll on it for transmog.

Another Personal Loot improvement might be a refinement of what loot is shareable and what is not. There is a lot of loot that may technically be an upgrade for a player but in truth it is useless to them, and currently they cannot offer it up for trade.

Talents. Lots of discussion here, but the one thing that gave me cause for optimism was the statement that the idea of selecting either the AoE or the Single Target talent in a tier just feels bad, and in fact it doesn’t make anyone actually choose, rather it just makes them burn a tome to adjust for each boss fight. Hallelujah.

The other interesting thing about talents in BfA is confirmation that Blizz will use them as a sort of testing ground for baseline abilities. That is, if one talent for a class is always selected by most everyone, then that begins to look like something that should become a baseline ability, and Blizz may change it to that in a patch. We kind of suspected this is what they were doing in the latter parts of Legion, but now we know that is indeed the case.

Mission tables. This was probably the most disingenuous part of the Q&A. Hazzikostas blathered on about how they will not serve as time gates in BfA, that they are more for auxiliary game play, they add a nice dimension to the game, they fit with the BfA story line, blah blah blah. What he did not admit was the obvious — that it is a mini-game within WoW that works well with the mobile app, and if they get rid of it then they might as well trash the app, too. And of course, every time a player logs in on the mobile app it counts towards MAU for the game.

Mythic+. Without saying so outright, it was pretty clear that Blizz sees this part of the game as increasingly important going forward. Hazzikostas was at some pains to explain that raiding is still important, but it was obvious that Blizz is looking to Mythic+ as the main end game group activity at some point. Just my opinion, of course, but I would have liked to hear a more robust defense of raiding and I did not.

Professions. There will be some changes for the better here, I think. The change to having professions grouped into expansion-specific ones is a good move. Also good was the comment that crafted items need to be more relevant throughout an expansion, not just at the beginning. Last, on a less optimistic note, I am not really a fan of the recipe-leveling mechanic introduced in Legion, but it sounded like we are stuck with that for BfA.

Alts. Sounds like what we have now in Legion will be what we have in BfA in terms of alt-friendly or alt-hostile (whichever side you come down on). There will be some concessions to alts in terms of grindiness — like we have now for AP catch-up — but Hazzikostas is digging his heels in on his personal conviction that the only reason to have alts is to play them as you would a mini-main. Playing them to farm items for a main is strictly frowned upon and Blizz is doing everything they can to make that as hard as possible for you.

Guilds. The introduction of “Communities” is interesting to me, and honestly I do not know if it will spell the virtual end of guilds or not. Likely I will be writing a lot more about this as we learn more of the specifics. Of note, Hazzikostas did not indicate there would be any new perks to guild membership, only that guilds would have “all the same things as Communities”, plus a guild bank. This is one that bears watching.

Anyway, those are what I saw as the highlights of the Q&A yesterday. I did think it was one of the more informative ones lately. If you find yourself with some free time it could be worth an hour to watch.

Speaking of free time, it is time to start a weekend. See you on the other side.

One of those nights

Last night our raid team made a Three Stooges comedy look like a PBS documentary in comparison. We — and I include myself in that — stunk. It was just a really bad night, one of those nights most guilds have from time to time, but it was tortuous.

Ever since we completed our heroic progression, we have routinely been clearing Antorus in something a little over two hours on our regular Tuesday raid nights. We know the fights, we all know our jobs for each one, and we have all gotten some decent gear which also helps. But not last night. We probably should have just called it when we carelessly wiped on the first boss, Garothi. Garothi! Just an aberration, we said, we were a bit short on healers, we said, a couple of our regular players were not there yet, we said. Pffft, no worries. Similarly, we overlooked problems with the next few bosses — sure, execution was a little rough, but hey we killed them so no harm no foul.

Then we got to Varimathras and wiped repeatedly. Varimathras, the Patchwerk boss of Legion! To be fair, a large part of the problem was Blizz’s extremely piss-poor raid design, in which Coven is visible (and at time inadvertently targetable) through the hole in the ceiling. In the past, we have had a little problem with this, but it has not usually been a big deal. But last night several times a wayward Sidewinder shot from  one of our MM hunters went into heat seeking mode, targeted one of the Coven, and then transported the hunter up into the Coven area, causing a cascading set of damage that wiped the raid. Individually, the glitch was kind of funny, but when it happened repeatedly it just compounded our already high level of frustration.

Design stupidity aside, though, even when Coven did not gang up on us, we were bad at the mechanics. After many frustrating wipes, we finally gave up and decided to just go to Aggramar and Argus and be done with the torture.

HAHAHAHAHA! Aggramar, too, was a comedy of errors for us. Our dps was down, small adds kept getting their cc broken out of turn, people died to fire and other easy mechanics…. the list goes on. Finally our usual raid leader got home from work and logged in, and we killed the boss by the hair of our chinny chin chins. Argus was not as horrible, and we did one shot him, though it was not our most elegant performance. A couple of people wanted to go back and get Varimathras, but as soon as Argus was down people bailed as fast as they could. (I was one of them, even though Varimathras is one of the very few bosses that have loot useful to me. I, along with most others, had had enough.)

I don’t have an explanation for why we were so bad last night. It is true we were missing a couple of our usual top damage dealers, but most of our problems did not stem from lower dps. The glitch with Varimathras and Coven was bad, but it was not the cause of our wiping every time on that boss. People — myself included — just were kind of sloppy, and it had an effect. I know for myself I am pretty much done with Legion in terms of being excited about anything, and I feel  burned out on Antorus. The only reason for me to run heroic at all any more is to help some of our guild non-raiders get their AotC. I am happy to do this, but curiously very few have expressed any interest in getting the achievement. The GM put out an announcement that anyone wanting to get it should contact an officer, and we would carry a couple of people each week. I don’t think more than one responded. I think quite a few players, raiders or not, are feeling expansion burnout.

One other thing happened last night that had an effect on me, and possibly on some others. We have a guildie who rarely logs on after maybe the first couple of months in a new expansion. (I will refer to this person as “they” so as not to categorize them, even though it will result in very tortured grammar, which I apologize for in advance.) This person is the Significant Other of another guildie, and they are not especially interested in the game but they play once in a while, apparently to please their SO. Interestingly, they seem to play only when the guild is doing something that will result in loot or a mount for them, and as soon as the guild has enabled them to get the thing, they disappear for weeks or months, uninterested in helping anyone else get the thing. (Also, whenever they do decide to play, their SO is always begging for loot for them — “Do you need that tier piece? [Name of SO] could really use it.”) To each their own, I suppose. They are not a bad player, and they are pleasant to chat with, but they clearly are out only for themself.

So last night when this person showed up for raid, I assumed they wanted to get the AotC achievement. Maybe they did, or maybe they just wanted the mount from Argus, but it turned out they also wanted something else. About halfway through the raid it came out that this person was streaming it. It seems they are trying to establish themself as a popular streamer, and apparently they thought streaming a raid would give them a good platform to add a few more followers. This may or may not be an effective strategy, but I — and a couple of others in the raid — felt duped and used.

It would just seem to be common courtesy to ask the raid before it started if it would be okay to stream it. I have not watched the stream, and I do not intend to, so I do not know what options the person has in place. I assume they do not have name plates visible, and possibly they have music playing that more or less keeps raider verbal comments from coming though clearly. I have no idea if raid chat is visible in the stream. I also do not know if the person streams under their character name, and I do not know if anyone watching would figure out which guild was performing so abominably. It does seem kind of low to stream a raid on a night when everything is going wrong.

Still, all other considerations aside, there is something very unsettling about someone using the raid for their own personal gain, about someone assuming they can just capitalize on my game play for their own advancement. I don’t know if I would have played differently or made different comments if I had known up front about the streaming, but it is the principle. And now that I think about it, I am not sure I would have participated in the raid at all had I known about the streaming in advance. I am not a public person, I have spent most of my life actively avoiding publicity of any kind. That aversion to being in the public eye transfers even to virtual avatars, and I am decidedly not comfortable with someone putting my game play out for public comment regardless of how many or few followers they may have.

Like I said, one of those nights. I am glad it is finally in the rear view mirror.

Through the glass darkly

As I have for the past couple of weeks, I spent most of my game time this weekend continuing to chug away at leveling my Void Elf arcane mage. I thought maybe as I got more into the leveling mindset, I might come to appreciate the finer points of Blizz’s throwback leveling mechanics.

Nope. I find it needlessly tedious and stupidly boring. Blizz has changed or varied some of the quest lines, it is true, so those are of very mild interest when I encounter them, but I am finding a lot of quest lines designed to force you to spend inordinate amounts of time simply shuttling back and forth:

  • Get a quest.
  • Go far away and do the quest.
  • Go back to turn it in.
  • Get newly available quest from same quest giver.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • Repeat.
  • zzzzzzzzzzzz…….. hmmm, what did I do with my toenail clipper?

I would have abandoned this whole project days ago if it were not for the fact I have all the Pathfinder achieves and thus can at least fly rather than gallop about. It seems clear that the “new” leveling protocol is all about stretching out the process as much as possible. Blizz can bray all they want about “restoring the experience”, but trust me, there is nothing interesting about commuting back and forth along the same path multiple times just to turn in and get new quests. (I am actually waiting for the change that will prevent us from skipping cutscenes, it seems almost inevitable it will happen. 🤨) Still, I suppose I am helping to contribute to Ion’s annual bonus by cranking out some MAU numbers for him, so at least that’s something.

Anyway, this post is not a rant about the ridiculous leveling changes (that will come later). It is about looking back and seeing expansions with the benefit of perspective.

I started playing WoW sometime around the very tail end of Burning Crusade. (I think I must have been about level 50 or 60 on my then-main hunter when Wrath of the Lich King went live.) One of the positive things about leveling my Void Elf is that it has given me a kind of retrospective on my history in the game. As I have gone through zones from each expansion, I am reminded of my first time through them years ago, and it is interesting that the things I see about them are not necessarily the things I would come up with if asked to list the highlights (or lowlights) of each expansion.

For example, if asked about Wrath, I think I would have remembered only two things. One, it was where I began my years-long search for Skoll and Arcturis. And two, it was where I finally found a guild I fit with and began regularly running instances and raids. That, and the Amberseed poop quest in Grizzly Hills.

What I would not have remembered, but which came back to me like a load of fresh Amberseed material falling on my head, was how much I detested nearly every quest in Zul’drak. Especially the seemingly-endless quest line where you put on that Ensorceled Choker disguise (you know, the one that keeps falling off exactly when you are surrounded by mobs that will kill a squishy mage in an instant) and run around playing with the Scourge. I hated it the first time I did it, and I hated it this time, too. If I had remembered how awful it was I would not have selected that zone to level in this time, but I only remembered about halfway through. I gritted my teeth and did most of it, but finally abandoned it prior to completion. It was just too long and annoying.

The main things I remember about Cataclysm are the zones — I hated the undersea one and loved Uldum. I spent hours in Uldum every week — even after leveling — gathering herbs and ore, and fishing. It was some of the most laid back, relaxing time I have ever spent in the game. I was having quite a bit of stress in my own life at the time, and putting on some music and flying my gathering routes was exactly what I needed to decompress.

I skipped all of the Cata zones leveling my Void Elf, opting instead for staying in Northrend until level 80, then going directly to Pandaria. I considered moving to Uldum, but I think I was loathe to overwrite what I want to keep as a sort of hazy pleasant memory.

The surprise revelation I got as I was leveling through Pandaria and now Draenor is this: I love the idea of a personal homestead in the game. When I got to Valley of the Four Winds, I couldn’t wait to get my cozy little Sunsong Ranch home. It was stupid, as I did not need to do any of the Tiller stuff for leveling purposes, but it was weirdly important to me to get a little place of my own.

Similarly, when I got to Draenor, I made sure to do the quest line to set up my Level 2 garrison. I did this mainly to be able to get the vendor for the XP potions, but I was astounded at the happiness that ran over me when I first walked into the gates of my Level 2 garrison. Yeah, I complained as bitterly as everyone else during WoD about the garrison burden, and if asked, I would have never listed garrisons as a plus for WoD. But there is no denying how good it felt to see this familiar scene of safety and sanctuary and know it was my own place. If I do anything with my Void Elf once she is leveled to 110, it will probably be to go back to Draenor and build up my garrison.

I am certain I will never have the same “coming home” feeling about class halls once Legion is finally history. I still do not understand why Blizz is so adamant about any form of player housing. They came so close with garrisons, but in typical fashion completely ruined the experience by ramming them down our throats. The unfortunate thing is, they now hold this venture up as an example for why player housing would be a bad thing — “See, we tried a prototype of it in WoD and you all complained bitterly and loudly about it! So no more of that, we promise you!”

Anyway, the best thing so far about leveling my Void Elf is that I am getting a renewed perspective on my history in the game, one that is frequently a surprise to me. Memory is often like looking through the wrong end of very dusty binoculars. We see tiny imperfect images and have a tendency to interpret them imperfectly, too.  And while we can never really go back, sometimes we get a brief chance to turn the binoculars right way round, and we can see the past a bit more clearly, and we can apply a proper perspective.